Recently, a guest asked me about my thoughts on riesling and whether is it just for the sweet wine drinker.
Contrary to popular belief, riesling is not always sweet. This was something that surprised Jay Perry as well, during the “dinner with the somm”wine experience. Actually, it was one of the wines that I paired with my first course. For my first course, I chose the sautéed veal sweetbreads that are accompanied by saffron grits, an apple-fennel salad and Tabasco butter. If you are not familiar with veal sweetbreads, they are prepared from the thymus gland. Sweetbreads are very delicate, crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. Neither Jay nor I had tried sweetbreads before, so it was an experience for both of us. These particular sweetbreads were spicy because of the Tabasco butter. When pairing wine with this course, I had to keep in mind a few things. One, the wine could not be spicy in itself, or it would make the dish spicier. For example, malbec would be a poor choice because it tends to be a spicier wine. Two, a sweeter wine will actually tone down the spiciness of the dish by cleansing your palate.
After considering all of these qualities, I decided that riesling would be the best pairing. Riesling is one of the most versatile grape varieties and is wonderful with food pairing. There are many different interpretations of riesling. Some rieslings are bone-dry, and others can be very sweet. It all depends on what part of the world the riesling is produced. The most common rieslings are produced in Germany, Alsace-France, Austria, Australia, California, and Finger Lakes-New York. There are many other parts of the world that make great riesling; however, these are the most well-known.
German rieslings are typically lower in alcohol and have great acidity, which is best for food pairing. Also, they are labeled based on the level of sweetness. The driest German riesling will be labeled "kabinett," literally “cabinet.” Then it progresses to "spätlese" (semi-sweet) and "auslese" (sweet). Finally, you have your sweet dessert wines, which are classified as "beerenauslese," "eiswein" and "trockenbeerenauslese." Also, another term that is used is "trocken," which means “dry” in German. I chose to pair a spätlese riesling with the veal sweetbreads. This spätlese riesling was off-dry, which was magnificent at pairing with spicy heat. There is just enough sweetness to diminish the heat.
I encourage you to explore riesling this week. In addition, try this type of pairing, and you will be surprised at how well it works together. It is a myth that riesling is only for someone who wants a sweet wine. There are various types of riesling that can satisfy all palates. You just have to know what kind to buy.
These are some of my favorite German rieslings that I highly recommend.
—2009 Dr. Loosen, Kabinett, Mosel, $
—2006 Helmut Mathern, Niederhäuser Rosenheck, Nahe, $
—2006 Dönnhoff, Kabinett Trocken, Nahe, $$
—2010 Dönnhoff, Spätlese, Nahe, $$
—2010 J.J. Prüm, Wehlener Sonnenuhr, Spätlese, Mosel, $$$
—2005 Schloss Schönborn Hattemheimer Pfaffenberg, Auslese, Rheingau, $$$